Round Rock ISD students will need to show proof of health issue to ‘opt out’ of mask requirement

Education

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Round Rock Independent School District voted 5 to 2 Tuesday night to make the opt-out option for the district’s mask mandate more exclusive.

Right now, anyone can opt-out of required mask-wearing.

Starting Thursday, students and staff can only opt-out for medical reasons.

Last week, RRISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez said he wanted to make the criteria to opt out more strict and reserve the option for students with developmental and medical conditions.

Since the first-day of school the district has seen 202 students and staff members test positive for COVID-19. 94 of them are inside the elementary schools and more than 2,000 students have been considered ‘close contacts.’

“Leander ISD just received a letter and we don’t want to be next,” said Hafedh Azaiez Round Rock ISD Superintendent. “If we continue on the same trend, then we may be receiving the same recommendation from the county.”

A letter sent to Leander ISD from the Williamson County and Cities Health district recommending the ISD close for 10-days to get its own outbreak under control is what prompted Round Rock to tighten its mask requirement.

“While Azaiez has said 10% opted out, I can tell you that at the high school level it’s often 30 to 40% of students who are going unmasked,” said a Round Rock ISD substitute during the Tuesday board meeting.

The heated back and fourth between the trustees, Round Rock teachers, parents and students played out for hours. One woman has to be escorted out of the board meeting for speaking out.

“These wild swings in policy in a short time period is not good governance,” said Danielle Weston, Round Rock Trustee. “We are failing by giving the green light, then giving the red light.”

Trustee Danielle Weston and Mary Bone were the only two who opposed the mask requirement.

“Mandates from out of touch dictators do not age well in our history books,” said Weston.

The two opposing trustees argue the board should wait for the Texas Supreme County resolution. While the resolution did pass, there are some lingering questions.

“What are we going to do for enforcement? I don’t know what options we have,” said Round Rock Trustee Cory Vessa.

The number one priority is to keep students in school, not to suspend them and require them to do virtual learning. The district superintendent said students who don’t want to mask will be distanced or separated with desk shields.

Parents of students who currently have an opt-out form on file will need to resubmit their request and provide a health or development condition within a week, according to recommendations.

Staff will also be required to wear a mask unless they have a health issue preventing them from doing so under the new changes.

More than 100 students and parents signed up to speak at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.

“My child, my choice; and I just want to say that I respect everyone’s choice to make in whatever that is,” one parent said.

Another pleaded: “please put teeth in the mask mandate. It doesn’t mean anything if anyone can opt out.”

Following the five-hour meeting, Round Rock trustee Dr. Jun Xiao announced on Facebook his decision to resign at the next board meeting.

Last night’s meeting should have happened 2 weeks ago. And the meeting discussion should have been based on reasoning and science. It should have been a unanimous 7-0 decision. Instead, our community is deeply divided on this simple public health measure, fueled by misinformation and distrust and exacerbated by tribal politics.

Dr. Jun Xiao wrote in a Facebook post.

The mask mandate in the district is temporary and will end on Sept. 17, unless extended by the board of trustees.

Round Rock also started its remote learning on Wednesday: 5,000 students are enrolled but the district said sixth graders had some technical glitches and won’t start class until Thursday.

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